Robert Lacey writes for Vanity Fair – The monarch’s job is to set a good example, but so far in the pandemic she has seemingly operated by different rules. At the Cenotaph on Sunday, she should finally abide by them.
It could be the perfect present for our Covid Christmas—a tasteful Buckingham Palace face mask bearing a design from the Royal Collection, plus an equally elegant storage bag, all for under a tenner. The Royal Collection has sold out almost all their stock. But what a strange thing that throughout Britain’s COVID-19 emergency the Queen herself has never been photographed wearing a face mask.
When the Queen last appeared in public, at Porton Down on October 15, Buckingham Palace had prepared an explanation for her lack of a mask. The 48 people who were due to come into contact with the Queen and Prince William that day had been specially tested for COVID-19 beforehand, said the Palace, and the site had been fenced off to keep it secure.
But that is not quite the point, is it? The message of this official explanation was that there is one rule for Her Majesty and another rule for the rest of us, who cannot deploy teams of testers whenever we go out to ensure that all those we meet are COVID-free. That’s why it is government policy that we should all wear face masks. No wonder the mask-less-for-the-day Prince William looked embarrassed. Like his father and the rest of the royal family, the Prince has stalwartly worn a mask in public since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in order to set a public example.
Isn’t that the job of our representative monarch—to reflect national policy on important national issues? And what could be more important than the issue of battling COVID-19? The Queen’s thinking on this matter remains a mystery. The closest that anyone has come to explaining why Elizabeth II should not just ignore but apparently flout government guidelines is because she wants to show Britain a picture of the magnificent and mask-less times that lie ahead. Her Majesty is holding out for hope.
If this is her thinking—and this explanation has not been confirmed by Buckingham Place—her aims are laudable. But to achieve those hoped-for good times, there is still a battle to be fought, and the frequently-repeated government strategy for winning that nation-wide battle is quite clear—that we all should wear face masks, if possible, from high to low.
Across Britain people are understandably bristling at the welter of restrictions that the current crisis is placing upon our lives. There has been a neo-Trumpian behavioral revolt at the “tyranny” of government measures, with all age groups—not just students—reveling in pre-lockdown parties. So surely now, more than ever, is the time for our Head of State to demonstrate that the sensible medical precaution of wearing a face mask is no tyranny – and that she is no Trump.
Fortunately, there is an occasion coming up for Her Majesty to do precisely that—on Remembrance Sunday, November 8, when we recall and honor those who have given their lives in battle for the defense of our country. In 2020 the fiercest battle we are fighting is against this dreadful pandemic—over 45,000 Britons have already lost their lives. And then there are the hundreds or even thousands of nurses, doctors and health and social care workers who have died on the front line battling the disease on behalf of the National Health Service. The vast majority of these casualties are people of color, with a huge number of them coming from Commonwealth countries.
So surely on Sunday we will see Her Majesty honor their sacrifice by wearing the mask that has become the symbol of our national determination to defeat this cruel and insidious enemy? She will also be flanked at the COVID-modified ceremony by several other members of the royal family, and on this national occasion, we can presumably expect that they will all be wearing their masks as well?
They will find it hard, for the moment, to buy new masks from the Buckingham Palace Shop. As of the end of October most of the royal face-coverings were sold out, with the website inviting you to register if you wanted news of when they will be back in stock. Her Majesty’s loyal subjects have certainly taken the government’s mask message to heart, even if Her Majesty herself does not seem totally convinced. Queen Elizabeth II’s finest moments have come when she has stooped to be ordinary beside us, as a volunteering princess in World War II or as a grieving monarch following the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Now is surely another such moment.
Robert Lacey is the author of Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.